Dogs on a mission aided by environmentally-friendly transport

From Checkpoint, 5:54 pm on 25 June 2019

The battle to stop pests like rats, stoats and skinks causing devastation on the islands of Auckland's Hauraki Gulf has been boosted by the addition of eight new sniffer dogs.

The elite team of operatives hunt down pests trying to stow away aboard ferries to Waiheke, Great Barrier and Rakino Islands but the council faces a problem: how to get the dogs from their headquarters down through congested traffic to the city's ferry terminals.

The answer is environmentally friendly, time-efficient and very cute: a new, specially made wagon towed by an electric bike.

The all-female band of pest detection dogs has increased in number this year from two to 10, following the council's natural environment targeted rate.

One of the gang, Kosher, is a rat specialist trained by handler Lois Clayton.

"Each dog has a different target," Ms Claytons said. "There's the mustelid dog for weasels, stoats and ferrets, the rodent dog for rats and mice ... the possum dog and the plague skink dog."

Being able to hop on a bike and make the journey down to town had made a huge difference to the way the team worked.

"The bike is absolutely fabulous because it's not using fuel, not causing emissions and very easy to find parking down on the waterfront," she said.

"A really good way of getting there and back, if i was walking it uses up a lot of time."

For Lois, being able to work with the dogs and protect the islands from pests was a dream come true.

"I've always had a passion for biosecurity, part of my growing up was on a quarantine island ... so it's been a real passion to protect these islands," she said.

"I've always worked with dogs, I've trained dogs since I was child so to bring the two together is like heaven."

The idea to transport the dogs to the ferry in the wagon came from Auckland Council's e-bike specialist, Meg Page, who said there was a lot to consider to make sure the equipment was right for rider and dog alike. 

"They needed to be waterproof, they needed to be comfortable, they needed to be safe and they needed to be visible.

"And they needed to be something that the rider can control easily, so tracking ability, those sorts of things were really important."

The equipment was absolutely safe, even if the bike fell over the trailer would stay standing, Ms Page said.

And the dogs were earning their keep, recently sniffing out a huge rat that was trying to sneak aboard a ferry in the axle of a truck.

Auckland Council biosecurity manager Jonathan Miles said the dogs were the superstars of his team.

He said not only had they caught pests, they also made it easy to strike up conversations about biosecurity with the public.

"We have to bring the public, the people of Auckland and nationally along with this journey to help us protect," he said.

"It's not just a single entity or organisation it's for us collectively to do and the dogs are a neat avenue into talking to a whole range of people."